Book Review – God’s Undertaker by John Lennox

Lennox claims that science is indeed compatible with religion and, not only that, claims that God is the best explanation for the scientific evidence accumulated over the past few centuries. The laudable aim of the book is to demonstrate this without invoking ‘gaps’ for God to fill, but unfortunately, throughout the book, Lennox brings up gap after gap after gap which he presumably fills with God.

Firstly, Lennox attempts to demonstrate that science is not incompatible with religion by observing that many scientists in the past have been religious and that “their belief in God, far from being a hindrance to this science, was often the main inspiration for it…” (p. 21). One of the main problems with this argument is that it does not show, objectively, that science and religion are compatible – it merely demonstrates that scientists who lived in a profoundly religious age were religious and, as with most religious people at the time, used it as an “inspiration”. Of course, after the Enlightenment and Darwin, atheism rose to prominence among scientists – indeed, only 7% of the members of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States (one of the most religious countries in the world) are religious.

Lennox then makes the claim that God is not an alternative to scientific explanation, and asserts that this is “an idea that is nowhere to be found in theological reflection of any depth” (p. 48); rather, “God is the ground of all explanation” – he is “the best explanation for the explanatory power of science”, and “no serious thinker” believes in a God of the gaps anyway. Nevertheless, this is making each and every explanation for natural phenomena far more complex than it needs to be: one wonders whether Lennox has ever heard of Occam’s Razor, because he even claims that the “explanatory power” of natural selection needs an explanation, when this is simply an absurd claim to make. The whole point of natural selection is that it does not need an explanation. Similarly, when we let go of a ball, it drops due to gravity – we do not need a God to be pushing it down or a God to make space-time warp.

In a later chapter, Lennox does seem to retreat from this claim, as he says that the process of evolution still requires a fine-tuned universe to occur. Indeed, Lennox invokes a number of physical constants that are supposedly fine-tuned to make this point. For instance, he cites the alleged fine-tuned process that results in the formation of carbon, an abundant supply of which is needed for life to exist in Earth. For this to happen, Lennox writes, “the nuclear ground state energy levels have to be fine-tuned with repsect to each other” in a phenomenon known as ‘resonance’ and “if the variation were more than 1 per cent either way, the universe could not sustain life” (p.70). However, this supposed fine-tuning, when looked into in more depth, is contradicted by a 1989 study pointed out by Nobel Laureate Professor Steven Weinberg, which actually found that the variation in the ‘resonance’ could be as much as 25 per cent and life would still be able to emerge! I am sure that, once we understand fine-tuning better if and when we can reconcile quantum mechanics with general relativity and get a Theory of Everything, the other examples of fine-tuning that Lennox cites will turn out to be weak too. Indeed, as particle physicist Dr. Victor Stenger states in his book The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning, a big mistake that is made when searching for fine-tuning is changing one constant yet keeping all the others the same, despite the fact that a theory of everything would most likely depict relationships between the physical constants. Thus, a change in one constant may be compensated by a change in another.

Lennox also believes that he has found evidence for God in science when he triumphantly proclaims that, in a “remarkable consensus of opinion…[scientists believe that the] universe had a beginning” (p.69). How this is evidence for a Creator God is beyond me, yet he cites Charles Townes who wrote that seeing as “the question of origin seems to be left answered… there is a need for some religious or metaphysical explanation”. Firstly, this is a conspicuous example of Lennox using an argument from ignorance – or God of the gaps, argument. Just because the question of the origin of the universe has not been answered, it does not mean that we invoke a supernatural entity to explain it. However, secondly, Lennox even concedes (albeit in an endnote), that the debate over whether the universe had a beginning is not over by any means – the only reason it may be thought that the universe has a beginning is because the laws of physics that we currently have at our disposal break down at the Big Bang, and we do not yet have a Theory of Everything to go beyond that.

Both his fine-tuning arguments and his First Cause argument also don’t take into account the multiverse hypothesis, which, contrary to popular belief, has not been blindly invoked just to support an atheistic worldview: rather, as theoretical physicist Brian Greene points out in The Hidden Reality, the multiverse, in one form or another, is implied by multiple, independent scientific models. One model, based on M-theory, of particular interest has been developed by distinguished physicists Paul Steinhardt and Neil Turok, and posits that we live in a “braneworld” – our universe lies on one of many branes in an eternal “braneworld”, or multiverse. It also suggests that, when these branes collide, Big Bang events will occur, thus it suggests a cycle of big bang events over eternity. This also, incidentally, gets rid of the universe having a beginning. Another well-known model, eternal inflation, also implies that we live in a multiverse in which each universe has different physical constants, and so it is not a surprise that we live in a universe which has the physical constants that it does.

It goes without saying that these models are speculative, but for Lennox to jump to the conclusion that a Creator God exists when we don’t even understand what we don’t know seems to me to be foolish.

After this, Lennox turns his attention to biology and claims that evolution is not incompatible with theism, but backs it up by quoting from scientific theists who happen to share this view with him. However, and this is where the book’s diminishes even further, he goes onto challenge macroevolution by quoting Intelligent Design advocates such as Michael Behe (p.110) and William Dembski. His lack of biological expertise shows when he mentions Behe’s irreducible complexity, a hypothesis that was refuted back in 2005. It is revealing that he attempts to challenge “macroevolution” despite there being masses of evidence coming from molecular biology and the fossil record to support “macroevolution”. One can only wonder whether his faith really is incompatible with “macroevolution”, which may be why he seeks to challenge it.

Lennox subsequently delves into fallacious statistical arguments when talking about the origin of life, and, although we haven’t explained the origin of life yet, Lennox contradicts himself yet again by using a God of the gaps argument to explain it.

Lennox concludes by saying that atheists are happy with “eternal energy” but not an “eternal Person” (p. 185). To the contrary, unfortunately for Lennox, scientific models in line with current cosmological data predict that the multiverse and/or a quantum vacuum may be eternal, therefore it is a false dichotomy to say that an eternal multiverse and an eternal Creator God are equally plausible: the former is certainly more plausible than the latter. Furthermore, even if we did have the choice between an eternal universe and an eternal God, which should we pick? Occam’s Razor would suggest the eternal universe: why add any extra assumptions?

In conclusion, Lennox fails to make a convincing case for a deistic God, and if this is the best that scientific theists have to offer, then they need to do a lot of work to improve their arguments for deistic deities first, never mind personal ones.

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